The Adjustment Bureau Cast
: Matt Damon, Emily BluntDirector
: George Nolfi Genre
: Matt Damon stars in the thriller The Adjustment Bureau as a man who glimpses the future Fate has planned for him and realises he wants something else. To get it, he must pursue the only woman he's ever loved across, under and though the streets of modern-day New York. On the brink of winning a seat in the U.S Senate, ambitious politician David Norris (Damon) meets beautiful contemporary ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) - A woman like none he's ever known. But just as he realises he's falling for her, mysterious men conspire to keep the two apart. Release Date
: March 3rd, 2011
About the Production:Course Correction: The Adjustment Begins
George Nolfi was working on another script when his longtime friend and producing partner, Michael Hackett, brought up Philip K. Dick's short story "Adjustment Tea" during a phone call. Though he had not yet secured the rights to the story, Michael Hackett had a solid working relationship with Philip K. Dick's estate and wanted to pursue optioning and developing the project. When the producer pitched George Nolfi the concept of "Fate personified" trying to prevent a man from being with the woman he loves, George Nolfi was intrigued. "He got very interested very quickly," recounts Michael Hackett. "In fact, he requested that we meet that day to talk more."
Though Philip K. Dick's work can be both prescient and dystopian, the central conceit of "Adjustment Team"-that Fate is a group of people among us-melded with a love story, struck George Nolfi as an original concept for a film that could dig into some of life's "big questions" in a thrilling and compelling way.
Flash forward to George Nolfi's work with Matt Damon on Ocean's Twelve; during this time, he and Michael Hackett pursued the adaptation of what would become The Adjustment Bureau. They were certain that they wanted Matt Damon as their lead, and George Nolfi began to write the part of his protagonist with Matt Damon in mind. Observes the writer/director: "Matt Damon's the best everyman that we've got, and because of that he's extremely believable in a love story."
Matt Damon's interest was piqued by this tale of a man who stumbles on a vast, powerful and unseen world that exists on the periphery of our own. He told the filmmakers that if future drafts looked as good, he would be ready to join. "George Nolfi has been a friend and collaborator for a long time," notes Matt Damon. "He brought this script to me that he'd written on spec…because he wanted to direct it. I was a big believer in him and felt he could do it."
George Nolfi took the opportunity to polish the idea before revisiting the project with Matt Damon during The Bourne Ultimatum, which George Nolfi also co-wrote. "I got the script to a place where I thought it was ready for Matt Damon," George Nolfi says. "Once he said he was interested in being involved formally…it was a back and forth collaborative process." Together, the colleagues had many philosophical conversations about the material; from these discussions came ideas that George Nolfi used to improve the arc and build out his story.
Matt Damon was impressed with the manner in which George Nolfi expanded Philip K. Dick's work and made it particularly relevant for a modern audience. The performer commends: "George Nolfi was specific about everything-from the look of it to the types of people that he wanted to cast. He saw what he wanted to do with this piece."
Since Matt Damon and George Nolfi had both worked previously with producer Chris Moore, they agreed that he would be a great partner with whom they could navigate the development of this ambitious project. Of his interest in joining the team, the producer comments: "I was interested in George Nolfi's take on what control we have over our own lives. I also loved that the material crosses a number of genres. There are thriller elements, action and a great love story-as well as a personal crisis about what you believe in and who are you going to be. All that, plus a huge action movie about trying to outrun your Fate…that's what popcorn movies are supposed to be."
Rounding out the producing team was notable New York City filmmaker Bill Carraro, whose experience both in development and in physical production would prove invaluable. The producer, who first partnered with George Nolfi on The Sentinel, worked with the director for more than a year and mapped out how to physically shoot the numerous set pieces and locations written into the script as the production navigated across Manhattan.
Bill Carraro, with his extensive experience in visual effects, understood that George Nolfi required the effects be seamless in order to work. He says: "We track the men of The Adjustment Bureau from one environment into another every time they open a door. That's apt to throw you into a lot of different locations." With the core team in place, the project soon secured funding with Media Rights Capital and production was set in motion.
The original character from Philip K. Dick's short story is an insurance salesman, but for his protagonist, George Nolfi felt strongly that David Norris should be a politician. For his main character, George Nolfi imagined a charismatic and popular Democratic congressman from the rough-and-tumble streets of Brooklyn.
Producer Michael Hackett explains this logic: "Picking a politician allowed us a character whose decision can matter to people beyond himself. If he chooses to stay on his career path, he can actually, under the right circumstances, do great things for millions of people. This weighs against his own happiness and what's best for him as a person."
Adds producer Chris Moore, whose partnership with Matt Damon extends back to the Oscar®-winning Good Will Hunting: "David Norris and Matt Damon…that is hard to separate. To some extent, it's because George Nolfi wrote the script for Matt Damon. He is one of the few guys out there who literally becomes the character."
At the beginning of George Nolfi's story, Congressman David Norris boasts a double-digit lead in the polls during his senatorial campaign. Explains George Nolfi of David's rock-star appeal: "He's the youngest congressman ever elected to the House of Representatives. He's got an outsized reputation because he's a big personality."
Although David's affable nature and straight-shooting demeanor have made him a clear public favorite, he is, after all, only human. "He has a tendency to mess things up for himself," Matt Damon reflects. "He's a little too honest sometimes…he's not quite political enough." It is just this shortcoming that causes David an embarrassing incident that costs him his first run for the United States Senate.
"Due to his youthful exuberance, he makes a mistake," says Michael Hackett. "Dig a little deeper, and someone examining the character might say that he had a subconscious desire to derail the path he was on so that he could find his real self." David's misstep, which is picked up by the press at the height of his campaign, costs him his lead in the polls and, eventually, the election.
Though the Bourne and Ocean's films have women in strong but supporting roles, this is one of the first projects in which Matt Damon has been cast as the romantic lead and played someone who is specifically, and fatefully, linked to a lover. As written, David's love interest needed to be a woman for whom he would move mountains.
On the eve of the election, before David is to give his concession speech at The Waldorf Astoria hotel, he takes a moment to collect himself in the men's room. Explains George Nolfi: "He's devastated that he's lost the election. Not just for himself, but he feels like he brought all these people along for the ride and let them down."
It is in the washroom that he encounters stunning dancer Elise Sellas, hiding from hotel security after she was found crashing a wedding. David finds her charming and irresistible, while she recognises him as the popular politico who is about to lose the election. He is instantly, and fatefully, drawn to her and starts to fall head over heels in love…something The Adjustment Bureau never intended. For the next several years, David will chase the elusive Elise and try and outwit what the men controlled by Fate have planned for him. And it could cost him, and her, everything.
So who exactly is this group who manipulates us from a position of unseen, immutable power? Who are its agents that seem to be nowhere and everywhere all at once? "They have a bureaucratic system that allows them to manipulate things in such a way that our lives are subtly adjusted, nudged, bumped, moved, encouraged, coaxed and cajoled in the direction that they have determined we should be going in," sums Micahel Hackett. "The Bureau represents a cipher of all interpretations people may have for 'the other.' That other power, that thing outside yourself that guides your choices. It's certainly not accidental that The Adjustment Bureau, distilled to its purest form, echoes a number of the great belief systems around the world, religious or otherwise."
George Nolfi extrapolates upon his concept of the organisation that drives his tale: "They're an expression of a higher power, so it's not like a government agency that doesn't want you to do something. They have powers that go way beyond what the earthly powers of an intelligence organisation would be. They set us on the course that we are supposed to be set onto so we will follow the grand scheme, or the grand plan. To them they just work at a bureau. They might as well work in the IRS; they're just doing their jobs." Tempted by Fate: Cast of the ThrillerThe role of Elise was a far less obvious casting choice than that of the film's male lead. George Nolfi wanted the character to be a dancer so she could provide a balance to David's structured, political world. "For many reasons, a dancer has a different life than a politician, far less calculating," the writer/director elaborates. "You can argue that dance is about the purest expression of free will. Although alternately, you could say if you're following a routine or a choreographed piece, then you don't have any free will at all. There's a complexity in this character that I like."
Because Elise is a world-class contemporary ballerina, it was integral to her character, as well as the plot of the film, that she be an experienced professional. "I had envisioned the role to be played by somebody who was a professional dancer or an actress who had many years of ballet training," offers George Nolfi. But as it turns out, finding the right actress with the appropriate training, as well as the right chemistry with Matt Damon, was a trickier feat than originally considered.
The production auditioned hundreds of dancers from around the world, with George Nolfi being present for dozens of the auditions. "We put on tape eight or nine hundred women, and we found a few good possibilities who were professional dancers," he remembers. "But at the end of that process, I went to established actresses to see how they played the scenes."
When acclaimed performer Emily Blunt read the script, she instinctively knew a professional actress was needed for the part. "I called my agent and said this is tricky stuff and an actor should do it," says Emily Blunt. "If that love and that relationship doesn't work, you don't have a movie. That's what I said to George Nolfi, rather boldly, and he agreed."
"In one meeting, Emily Blunt completely derailed my plans for casting the role," admits George Nolfi. "She came in and read with Matt Damon. We filmed the whole thing, and you could just tell." After she won the role, Blunt dedicated several months to vigorous dance training for the part. She knew portraying Elise Sellas would be immensely tough.
Once her training brought her character's physicality up to snuff, Emily Blunt found that bringing the romance to the role of Elise was the fun part. "I thought, 'Thank God. George Nolfi has written a feisty, strong, layered, complicated girl who can hold her own. She's tough, but she's vulnerable," Emily Blunt says. "There was a lot to play with; the dialogue was witty, and the connection they have and how they fell in love didn't seem contrived."
"David and Elise's first encounter is unusual. The romance and the spark of the scene is fought against the backdrop of sinks and toilets," the performer laughs. "It sets us up with the situation that you can't help whom you're attracted to, and you certainly can't help the situations or environments in which you find yourself attracted to this person."
David informs Elise that he has just lost the election, and she unexpectedly inspires him with genuine words of encouragement. "David's just about to go make his concession speech and he's at a point where he feels like he's lost it all," says Emily Blunt. "My character pumps him up and reinvigorates this passion for what he does. She encourages a frankness in him, because that's what she has."
Matt Damon adds his take on the encounter: "He's basically in love with her after a five-minute conversation. She gives him the idea to be himself in this concession speech, which he does. And the speech is so popular that he immediately becomes the odds-on favorite to be the next senator from New York."
Unbeknownst to Elise or David, it was not chance that caused their rendezvous that night. It was a planned meeting, orchestrated by the agents of The Adjustment Bureau in a cunning, structured move. But they were only intended to meet once. Producer Chris Moore elaborates on who these men are: "Fate has agents in the world, and Fate is this force. The idea behind The Bureau is that humans need a little bit of guidance throughout life to not self-destruct or blow ourselves up."
For every human, there is an Adjustment Bureau case officer. David's case officer, Harry, has been with David since he was born, helping him reach his potential. Elise was only needed to come into David's life at the precise moment when he was at his lowest to bolster him up to greatness. After that, they were never meant to meet again. However, when Harry misses a crucial "adjustment" for David, this sets off a course of events that pits David at odds with his own Fate.
After watching his performance opposite Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker, George Nolfi pursued actor Anthony Mackie to take the part of David's guardian angel. Recounts Chris Moore: "Anthony Mackie is a great story because we were having trouble casting the part of Harry. George Nolfi went to the movies one day to see The Hurt Locker. I got a text from him that night in the theater that read, 'We've got to cast Anthony Mackie.'"
The feeling was mutual. "My manager sent the script to me, and he said, 'I have something; you're never going to believe it,'" remembers Anthony Mackie. "I was surprised by the depth and clarity of the characters and the way they were written. I said, 'If I have to fly to L.A. and meet with George Nolfi …I don't care. Whatever I have to do, I have to play this role.'" Of the character, he adds: "Harry is a consummate professional, but he has a conscience. That gives you a great opportunity when it comes to a character."
John Slattery was brought onto the production to play Richardson, Harry's supervisor at The Adjustment Bureau, who tries to right the chaos that Harry has inadvertently allowed David to create. "Richardson has been doing this job for a long time, and this is his red-letter case," explains John Slattery. "A person in his position wants to establish himself and then move up the line. But then it starts going badly for Richardson."
John Slattery, best known for his portrayal of Roger Sterling in AMC's Mad Men, was cast after a chance encounter with George Nolfi in Los Angeles. George Nolfi, whom John Slattery knew through a mutual friend, asked him to come in and read a few scenes on film as a favor. A few months later, George Nolfi had edited them together and showed John Slattery, who thought it looked fantastic. Once he read the script, he wanted to join the project.
When David arrives at his office to share the happy news of reconnecting with Elise with his former campaign manager (and current business partner), Charlie Traynor, he stumbles upon Adjustment Bureau agents who are in the middle of "adjusting" Charlie and fiddling with his memories. David has now become one of the very few people who have ever seen the way these men operate.
Matt Damon recounts the pivotal moment: "The Adjustment Bureau is forced to abduct me and pull me into this bizarre place. Richardson tells me: 'You're seeing behind the curtain right now. You were never supposed to see this, but you have and we're going to have to ask you to not ever tell anybody about this…or we're going to erase your brain.'"
Once Richardson discovers that David wasn't delayed, but actually ran into Elise again on his way into work, he warns David that if he divulges their secret to anyone, or pursues Elise any further, David will invite the wrath of The Bureau. And Richardson gives David no more answers, despite David's protestations that he's fallen for Elise.
To play the part of David's childhood best friend, Charlie, George Nolfi tasked actor Michael Kelly, whose pivotal turn in Dawn of the Dead launched his film career. "After I read the script, I called my manager and said, 'I've got to do this movie,'" says Michael Kelly. "At the audition, I told George Nolfi, 'I want to be a part of this film. I don't care what part I play.'" For Michael Kelly, the appeal of the story was its originality. "The fact that you can take a true, beautiful, romantic story and combine it with all this action and elements of otherworldliness is just amazing."
To provide the film's on-screen campaign partners with an introduction to a political mindset, George Nolfi had Matt Damon and Michael Kelly meet with former congressman Harold Ford to discuss politics at the start of production.
Recalls Michael Kelly of the day: "We chatted about politics and what my position is, and Ford gave us reading material and films to watch, including The War Room, about James Carville and Bill Clinton's campaign. He also had me read 'Counselor,' written by Ted Sorensen, who was a big part of Kennedy's rise."
Ironically, much of Charlie's job is to keep tabs on David and ensure he stays on script. "As his best friend and political advisor, it's a difficult job for Charlie," explains Michael Kelly. "Because they get so close so often, and over and over, David does something to derail the campaign."
To round out The Adjustment Bureau's principal cast, George Nolfi cast the legendary Terence Stamp as Thompson-the last resort in the hierarchy of agents to "adjust" the Norris situation and quash insubordination. Shares George Nolfi: "Thompson has an enormous latitude to change the physical realities and mess up other people's lives in order to put David back on track. Putting David back on track means he cannot have a relationship with Elise. You look at Terence Stamp, and there's a certain amount of gravitas that comes with him."
Similar to the other performers, it was George Nolfi's intricate story that attracted Terence Stamp to the project: "Most actors are suckers for good writing," remarks Terence Stamp. "If you send an actor a wonderful script, that's always a great hook. It was going to be directed by the writer, which, to me, is always a wonderful thing. Great writers have a vision of the script, and who better than the writer to direct it and to manifest that vision?"
Playing a mystical agent offered a great appeal to the actor. "The members of The Bureau have been around for a few thousand years," he shares. "That was unusual for me to try and give an impression of somebody who has a timeless aspect about him."It would prove impossible to the cast to work on a romantic thriller about the powerful forces of destiny and Fate without some reflection upon these factors in their own lives. Terence Stamp sums what many on the project felt with a touching story. He reflects: "There was something that my mother said to me very late in her life. I was talking to her once about my dad-about how she met him and what it was like. "She said to me, 'Well, he wasn't what I would have chosen. He wasn't what I wanted at all, but I couldn't help myself.' I've thought about that a lot. Because that's the destiny, isn't it? Where your mind doesn't want something, but you have to do it anyway."
The Art of Politics: Damon as NorrisThe production was able to leverage Matt Damon's celebrity to further the authenticity of David Norris' life in The Adjustment Bureau. During the shoot, Matt Damon was asked to take part in President Clinton's Global Initiative. Recounts Michael Hackett: "We had the idea, and the Clinton people thought it was fine, that Matt Damon would go in wardrobe as David Norris, who would logically be at this type of an event. We could get him interacting with President Clinton and other heads of state." A skeleton crew, led by cinematographer John Toll, was granted the security clearances necessary to follow Matt Damon around the event documentary-style, while producer Chris Moore worked to persuade other world leaders and politicians to appear in the film as well.
The key crew even had a fortuitous encounter with President Obama's advance team at The Waldorf Astoria hotel during the first week of shooting, and it secured some bonus technical advice as it prepared to shoot the concession speech scene. Key learning? Lose a Lucite podium in favor of a more traditional one.
Matt Damon's publicity tour stops to promote The Informant! also benefited The Adjustment Bureau. The Informant! was being released just as production began, and so Matt Damon's appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart became another opportunity to shoot a campaign-stumping scene for David.
"The way people react to Matt Damon is not unlike how they would react to a celebrity politician," says Michael Hackett. "We used that overlap to our advantage. He can walk down the streets of New York and people recognise him and camera phones come out. But that was value for the movie because, again, they are reacting to Matt Damon, not dissimilar to how we would like them to be reacting to the character of David Norris."
Another aspect of this character that plays well into Matt Damon's filmic experience is the physicality of stunts. Much like Jason Bourne's tireless athlete, David Norris finds himself literally outrunning Fate. "There are a number of corridors and stairwells, lobbies and elevator banks in this film," states production designer Kevin Thompson. As David navigates Manhattan, eluding agents and eventually making a final dash into the heart of The Bureau itself, he is running for his life.
As an actor who enjoys performing his own stunts, Matt Damon had athletic ability to spare while playing Norris. But that was occasionally frustrating to the Ginger Rogers to his Fred Astaire. "Matt Damon's a good runner. He's fast, annoyingly fast," laughs Emily Blunt, who was forced to keep up with him while she wore high heels for many of her character's chase scenes with David.
Perhaps the only element in the film that seems to be a departure from Matt Damon's prior acting roles is the love story. "This is the most romantic lead I've ever had," admits Matt Damon. "It was definitely new territory."
The Art of Dance: Training BluntFrom the beginning of principal photography, Emily Blunt was upfront about her lack of formal dance training. "I was honest. I've never danced in my life," she says. "I met George Nolfi, and I said, 'I'll work my ass off for you if you let me do this.'"
The performer immediately asked to meet with the film's choreographer, Benoit-Swan Pouffer, from Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, which would become the actual company that George Nolfi wrote into the film's script.
Founded in 2003 by Nancy Laurie and artistically directed by Benoit-Swan Pouffer, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet of New York City has a core group of 16 dancers, and it emphasises acquiring and commissioning new works by the world's most sought-after, emerging choreographers. With performances often incorporating multimedia presentations, Cedar Lake is known for its daring, athletic movements and its integration of ballet into contemporary and popular forms.
When George Nolfi approached Benoit-Swan Pouffer to have his company involved in the film, George Nolfi discussed a female dancer in the role of Elise. Remembers Benoit-Swan Pouffer of his earlier conversations with George Nolfi: "I said, 'Okay, but make sure that it is a dancer because I've seen many movies fail because it's difficult to show how a dancer is.' Then a month later they said, 'We found the actress: Emily Blunt.' I said, 'She's not a dancer. What are we going to do?' But it's been such a pleasure. Emily Blunt came in full-force, and I felt that she wanted to get the style and the behaviors; she's done an amazing job."
Benoit-Swan Pouffer's objective was never to make Emily Blunt a trained dancer. He felt the best way to approach teaching a non-dancer to perform would be to draw the parallel to her acting skills. "I was here to explain to her that some dancing is not necessarily done by dancers. It's movement and understanding phrasing and theatricality when you dance," the choreographer explains. "It's like learning dialogue, learning a script."
In fact, he used the emotional tones of the screenplay to inform his choreography for Elise's numbers. "The solo scene was interesting to work with Emily Blunt because it's a moment where she's asking herself some questions," he says. "She's going through something. So we had to, movement-wise, express the step of anxiety." Throughout all the training, Emily Blunt was game for the ideas her instructor aimed to execute through her movements. "Emily Blunt's special," Benoit-Swan Pouffer comments. "She's strong. She's not scared."
Producer Bill Carraro, who had recently worked with Emily Blunt in London on The Wolfman, was confident that she had the work ethic and athletic ability to take on the challenge. Still, the prospect of training to become Elise was initially intimidating for Emily Blunt, who not only had to achieve the precision and form of a professional dancer on screen, but also didn't want to disappoint the Cedar Lake professionals whom she would be representing. With Benoit-Swan Pouffer instructing her on dance and a personal trainer working her out for hours a day, six days a week, Emily Blunt began an entire lifestyle overhaul that transformed her body into that of a dancer's.
"The training was unreal. I hurt every day. It's one thing to say, 'I'll do it for you,' but it's another thing to actually do it," Blunt says of her promise to George Nolfi. "It was hell to learn at first, and then it became invigorating, and one of the biggest, life-expanding experiences I've ever had."
Chris Moore notes that since Emily Blunt was cast in late July 2009 and the film began shooting in New York in September, she didn't have many months to train. Though the performer did work with body doubles, and films have the luxury of shooting at specific angles and cutting around talent in postproduction, many of the cast and crew admit that Emily Blunt rarely relied on visual crutches to express her character in motion.
Remembers George Nolfi: "Emily Blunt came out here a couple months before production and she was dancing five or six days a week and working out, taking it seriously on the physical performance level." The director also stresses that Emily Blunt was not learning simply standard ballet techniques. "It's ballet-based contemporary dance, so it doesn't look like your mother's or father's ballet. It looks like modern dance, and it is set to modern music; you couldn't possibly do this dance without a lot of ballet training."
Her co-star agrees with his director's assessment. "I'm normally the actor who ends up having to do a boatload of training for things," says Matt Damon. "On this one, I just sat back and watched Emily Blunt; she was just so great and utterly believable."